Two years ago, I had the original RED on my top ten list for the year. It was such a surprise and so much fun that it was easy to ignore whatever faults it might have. For the sequel, I’m willing to make the same deal. The tone of the movie and the glee that the actors have in playing their roles, allows me to ignore some plot holes, forgive some of the over the top action beats and not worry about the convoluted plotting that could confuse anyone who got up to go to the bathroom during the film. Locations change, loyalties shift and the goal of the protagonists shifts repeatedly. None of that matters because this is just in exercise in looking cool and saying the right thing to get a laugh from time to time.
Much like Dwayne Johnson and Mark Wahlberg, Bruce Willis seems to be starring in every movie that comes out this year. This is his third time in theaters in 2013 and his second extended visit to Moscow as part of the plot. Fortunately, this movie is a lot more successful in giving the audience some pleasure than “A Good Day To Die Hard” was. Frank, the Retired Extremely Dangerous C.I.A. asset, is called on to participate in some spy nonsense where old rivalries and revenge plots overlap and spies that make James Bond seem like he has been under trained, crawl out of every storefront and bar in the vicinity. Unlike the “Die Hard” series, where John Mclane is a serious character who manages to break the tension with a well timed quip, Willis here is playing a comedian who is occasionally called upon to perform acts of violence as a side note. The characters are really the reverse of each other, and in this movie, Willis gets the tone correct and he is in sync with the picture which was not the case earlier this year.
This story lacks two ingredients that made the first movie a little more successful. We don’t get the charm of Morgan Freeman and there is no conflicted agent like Karl Urban. Instead, those characters have been replaced with three other actors who provide different strengths. Anthony Hopkins joins the shenanigans as a scientist, long time kept out of the game by conspiracies within different spy agencies. Early on in his appearance, there is some charm to the absent minded, partially deranged character. As the movie goes on, he keeps some of the charm but the plot shifts again to something a bit bigger. I don’t know if that was designed to give him a greater part in the story or if the plot just was bouncing around so much that this is where it ended up. Also on board for this fast moving mess of a story are Neal McDonough and Catherine Zeta-Jones. McDonough plays his standard creepy bad guy, brutal in his methods and the threats he makes. He basically plays the Robert Quarles character from “Justified” only without the complicated background. It is easy to dislike the character immediately and know he is not to be trusted. Zeta-Jones plays a Russian espionage specialist, who’s loyalties seem to shift on a very regular basis. She is used primarily for star power here since her part could have been done by any number of other actors.
The surprise for me this time was the work of Mary Louise Parker. As Frank’s girlfriend Sarah, she was just a damsel in distress in the first movie. In this film, she gets to be an instigator and an active participant in the activities of the group. It seems that Sarah is stimulated by the dangerous missions and the romance between her and Frank needs the spark that the high adventure injects into their lives. She jumps full throttle into the activities and shows some skills that are needed from time to time. As Marvin says “She has some thing you and I Frank will never have, she’s likable.” That likability gets tested several times and she has to grow up a little in the part she is playing, but it never gets too heavy handed. The welcome presence of our other RED agents is also comforting. Helen Mirren plays off her deadly skills with some well placed quips. She has a great action scene that is just silly CGI baloney, but it works because she sells it. Two handed gunplay in a Lotus never looked so good. John Malkovich tones down the crazy in this movie and replaces it with slightly brilliant eccentricity. It works, and he gets to have a lot of fun being the occasional voice of irrational reason. Byung-hun Lee shows up in a second movie with Willis this year after earlier appearing in G.I. Joe 2. There are several scenes of him being a bad ass assassin and trying to take the team out, mostly for no reason other than to fit in some action scenes and chop socky material. His is another character with conflicted loyalties. I was also happy to see the return of Brian Cox to the film, although his part is relatively limited to exposition and easy story plotting.
Some of this may sound like I had big issues with the movie. I didn’t. I know that it is comic book action for people who want their super heroes to be a little less alien and a lot more funny. This movie gets the tone of the characters right and the ridiculousness of the plot is clear from the beginning. My kids are well trained and respectful of film makers, we always watch the credits to give the people who worked so hard on the film their due. When Amanda had to get up at the start of the credits, I knew she really needed to go to the restroom. She made it back before the credits were finished and she made what I’m afraid is an accurate and telling point. She said she forgot that this is an old persons movie, and she had gotten stuck behind several people who did not appear to have any place to go as they were leaving the theater and she really needed to go. It’s true, this movie is focused on “retired” agents and so in addition to the cast, the audience is a bit older as well. That was one of the reasons I liked the first movie. It showed that the old dogs still had a few tricks to show. Well it is true again. there is some life in the older generation (at least among these actors) and that gives my demographic a better reason to go to the movies. The young cast featured in the trailer that played in front of this film for the “City of Bones” film coming soon left me cold. Bruce, Helen, Tony, John and Brian warmed me up just fine.